How did you get started?
Tom Cappello, owner of The Tasty Trolley, is a numbers guy. He’s been in various aspects of the food industry since 1977, and he’s learned a lot in that time. He opened Pizza Star, Kuppers French Fries made in Italy, and Tommy’s Food Court on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights in 1980 and has owned many successful restaurants in New Jersey, including Gaetano’s and Mr. Pizza Slice in Red Bank. He purchased the Wallace Street building that would become a Red Bank landmark in 1999 and opened Gaetano’s on July 13, 2000, selling it just last year. Boasting one of the few open kitchens in the area preparing fresh, tasty Italian specialties – more than just a spaghetti and meatballs joint – was just one reason for Gaetano’s popularity.
We recently spoke with Tom about his travels in the food business.
It seems these days that many people who want to go into the food business start with a food truck and then “move up” to a brick-and-mortar. You did things the other way around. Why?
“I’ve been doing this a long time. Profit margins are better in the festival business, especially if your restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license. If you lose business during a particularly bad January, you’re not going to make that up because the weather is nice in July. At festivals, it’s entirely up to you to make the most of the opportunity.”
Why did you decide to open a food truck?
“Many events would only allow food trucks, but I noticed some of the difficulties with the trucks. Most of the trucks had long lines, they were so high that you couldn’t see the food and they only had one window to serve from. and in the early days the trucks all looked the same. I knew I wanted something different. It’s all about the merchandising. I wanted something eye-catching, with a carnival feel, that would attract kids.”
“It wasn’t until I saw a wedding trolley parked outside St. James in Red Bank that I realized what my truck had to be.” The trolley is low, eye-catching, and most importantly, has lots of windows.
Tom located his 1998 trolley in Chicago. While driving it back to New Jersey with his son Mike, they brainstormed what the truck would look like. Mike sketched out a basic idea of a tongue sticking out, not unlike the one made famous on the Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers.
To have his trolley customized to his specifications, Tom went to the leaders in industry, Custom Food Carts in Hammonton, third-generation specialists whose grandfather started with the original lunch carts and hot dog wagons and now create food trucks for the likes of Disney, the movie business, and major stadiums across the country. Built to his specifications, the trolley features four steam tables and, most importantly, two serving windows to move customers quickly. Having his start with four businesses on the boardwalk taught Tom the value in getting food out quickly. “The trick in the food truck business is to realize how much time you have to make your money. If you only have six or eight hours, you have to be efficient and ready to serve quickly in to maximize each opportunity.”
The Tasty Trolley has been featured at events all over New Jersey, from Jersey City down to Wildwood. What are some of their most popular items? The Mac & Cheese Balls and grilled cheese sandwiches. The best part of running a food truck? The ease of setting up: being able to just pull up at the beginning and drive away when the day is done.
Thanks to word of mouth and being seen – and tasted – at lots of events, they’re lining up lots of private parties as well. Contact the Tasty Trolley at www.thetastytrolleynj.com
What’s your most popular menu item?
People love the Mac & Cheese Balls, Grilled Cheese and Fried Calamari (Doesn’t serve fish from the truck)
Do you do wedding and/or catering?
Yes, the Tasty Trolley does parties and weddings.
You can contact them at www.thetastytrolleynj.com